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John Calipari


John Calipari

John Calipari works up a sweat during the Memphis Tigers' Final Four win over UCLA.

Getty Images / Streeter Lecka
One of college basketball's most polarizing figures is on top of the college basketball world, now that the Kentucky Wildcats are national champions.


John Calipari


Head Coach


Kentucky Wildcats

Key Influences:

Larry Brown

Great Players:

Marcus Camby (UMass), Edgar Padilla (UMass), Carmelo Travieso (UMass), DaJuan Wagner (Memphis), Shawne Williams (Memphis), Derrick Rose (Memphis), John Wall (Kentucky), Anthony Davis (Kentucky)

Championships and Final Four Teams:

2012 National Champions - Kentucky Wildcats
2011 Final Four (Kentucky)
2008 Final Four (Memphis, Vacated due to NCAA Violations)
1996 Final Four (UMass, Vacated due to NCAA Violations)


Mention John Calipari to any college basketball fan, and odds are you won't get a lukewarm response. Kentucky's head coach is one of the sport's most polarizing figures. He's one of the sport's great recruiters, and better than anyone at turning squads of "one-and-done" recruits into cohesive basketball teams. But he angers some by refusing to pretend that his elite recruits are using school as anything other than a launch pad for their NBA careers, and he's been close enough to scandal - his Final Four appearances with Memphis and UMass were vacated by the NCAA - that many think he's dirty.

Massachusetts Minutemen

Coach Cal's career on the bench started immediately after his 1982 graduation from Clarion State, as an assistant to Ted Owens at Kansas. He stayed on when the legendary Larry Brown took over at KU in 1983, then left for Pittsburgh in 1985, where he worked as an assistant to Paul Evans until getting his first head coaching position at UMass in 1988.

Calipari turned the Minutemen into a power, winning the Atlantic 10 tournament for five straight years from 1992-96. The '96 team capped reached the Final Four, losing to eventual champion Kentucky. But that season was marred by the news that Marcus Camby had accepted gifts from an attorney and aspiring player agent. The university was forced to return $151,000 in NCAA Tournament revenue (an amount that Camby repaid) and stripped of its four tournament victories. Calipari was never implicated in the controversy.

New Jersey Nets

He left UMass after the Final Four run and was named head coach of the New Jersey Nets. He had some success in the NBA, leading a perennially-bad Nets squad to the playoffs in his second season, but ran afoul of the media after a heated post-game exchange with a reporter. The following season the Nets got off to hideous 3-17 start and Calipari was fired.

He spent the 1999-2000 season on the Philadelphia 76ers bench as an assistant to Larry Brown before taking the Memphis job.

Memphis Tigers

Calipari's high-energy style proved a good fit for the Tigers. They won the NIT in Calipari's second season and have made six trips to the NCAA Tournament in his last seven years there, while generally dominating Conference USA (59 straight wins and four straight conference titles). The Tigers' 2008 season and Final Four appearance was vacated amidst allegations that star guard Derrick Rose faked his SAT score. But by the time those allegations hit the news, Calipari was on his way to Kentucky.

Kentucky Wildcats

Lexington seems to be an ideal fit for Calipari. The Wildcats have never had trouble attracting elite talent, but under Coach Cal, Lexington has become the destination of choice for the best of the best. Calipari has brought a parade of future first-round draft picks to Rupp Arena, including the top overall choice in the 2010 draft (John Wall) and the overwhelming favorite to go first overall in 2012 (Anthony Davis).

In 2011, Calipari brought the Wildcats to the Final Four, becoming just the second coach to lead three different teams to the NCAA Tournament's final weekend. His Wildcats lost to eventual champion UConn in the national semifinal game.

In 2012, the Wildcats returned to the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed and a heavy favorite to win it all. Win they did, beating Kansas (his opponent in the 2008 title game) in the championship game, 67-59, behind a stellar defensive performance by Davis.

A Return to the NBA?

Calipari's name will continue to surface in NBA coaching rumors, due to his success, high profile, and close ties to LeBron James and CAA, the agency that represents Carmelo Anthony and other big names. But a return to the pros seems unlikely; working at the next level would eliminate his greatest advantage as the nation's best recruiter.

It seems more likely that he'll continue to bring a parade of future NBA stars to Lexington, and to be a fixture at the Final Four for years to come.

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